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Pollen Defence System Part 1: How It Began.

Back when I lived in Greater Manchester, I used to work in an office that was about a kilometre from the nearest Met stop. That road from the stop to work was lined with old, tall trees. And once a year, for a couple of weeks or so, those trees waged war on my entire face.

I grew up in a city, and to this day I have no idea what kind of trees they are – but for those two or three weeks every year, I spent every day with my face streaming tears and snot, itching eyes and an extra wheeze in my breathing.

The NHS is overstressed and underfunded, and getting a test to specify the exact allergens for hayfever is tricky – I’m not sure it’s even possible unless the allergy is life-threatening, which most are not.

But machine learning can be free!

I had done some work with conductive thread and conductive velcro before, and when I was discussing this project with Jude, I started thinking of a way to take action against hayfever. I wanted it to be something that would feel less like the passive approach of taking one-a-day meds, stocking up on eyedrops, and hoping for the best.

The basic idea is, make a plant pot containing fabric flowers, that can be torn to pieces (or have a petal removed) to indicate your deep displeasure at the behaviour of nearby plants (or indicate your symptoms) and can provide you with a well-stocked armoury to fight back (or let you know which symptoms are likely to turn up, over time).

Pollen Defence System

So, very simply – the plants use conductive velcro to keep their loose petals attached. When you remove a petal, you break the circuit and indicate to the Raspberry Pi that you’re experiencing a specific symptom (I’ve gone for itchy or runny eyes, sneezing, and wheezing – I like odd numbers – but obviously you can add or remove symptoms to your heart’s content). The RasPi ties into an API that tracks which pollens are likely to be in your area, and tracks which symptoms match which pollens. Over time, it builds up a picture of which plants you seem to be reacting to, and notifies you (through the “sun”) how likely you are to experience symptoms. By checking the Pi, you can find out which symptoms you’re looking out for, so you can take action appropriately.

Pollen Defence System - How it Works

Because I'm very familiar with laser cutting various materials, it's may be natural that I decided to use the laser cutter to make most of the physical parts. The castle will be made of laser cut wood, but the flowers will also be laser cut from fabric, with some discs of EVA foam to help stabilise the inside where the stalk (a wooden rod for gardening) meets the blossom.

The castle will be made of laser cut wood and fabric

I’m redesigning the castle to fit some extra sensors to check and display indoor air quality stats, and I’m redesigning the flowers to work a little more easily – but that will all be covered in the next article, where I’ll tell you everything you need to know to build your own pollen defence system!

Multiply disabled artist/maker in Liverpool. Pre-COVID I taught both children and adults about digital making, and I'm hoping to get to do that again when I can do so safely. I believe art and making are integral components of the human experience, and should be accessible to all.